Saturday, June 22, 2019

SL16B Music Faire (06.21.19)

Rocking the residents of Second Life at SL16B Music Faire. Photo by Kat.

This, being the morning after I did my live music performance at the SL16B Music Faire, seems as good a time as any to talk about how I got into Second Life. I may have told this story before; feel free to skip down if you've heard it.

In October 2006, I was in a long distance relationship. Christina and I had become acquainted a number of years previously via an online forum for people into music and audio recording (how we met there is a story unto itself, having to do with Tenacious D and a notorious Internet troll, but I digress). She was living near Seattle, WA at the time; I was a thousand miles south here in Redondo Beach, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles. We'd discovered our interest in each other, traded many thoughts via text, and had met for the first time in person earlier that year, in San Francisco in February. We were together again in Las Vegas in April. She visited me here in June. I headed up to Seattle to see her in July. In between those trips, there were constant phone calls and so on, as you'd imagine.

So we had a good thing going, but this constant traveling back and forth to see each other wasn't the easiest way to maintain a relationship. One day, my friend Mike Burns -- a guy I'd known since high school who'd been a close buddy and a bandmate -- called me up and asked if I'd heard about this thing called Second Life. I vaguely knew it was some online virtual world, but had no other concept about it. Mike was excited because Duran Duran had an island there (I had no idea what that could even mean) and that I should check it out. that evening, I happened to be on the phone with Christina as we often were, recounting my day and such. I mentioned this virtual thing to her, and she said we should check it out. So while we were on the phone, right then and there, we visited SL. Signing up at the same time, we were able to choose the same surname (back then, SL forced you to select between a preset list of last names, which was probably easier for their database maintenance at the time). We picked Claxton out of the available names. I chose to be Zak; she picked something that was already taken, and then went with her second choice, which was Kat.

What we found was that via SL, we could be "together" in a way that was more more tangible than being on the phone and writing text back and forth to each other. This idea of having some 3D representation of ourselves was pretty new and exciting at the time. We really didn't know much else about Second Life at all. During those early days, we'd get into world each night after work and go on little virtual dates... using the search function and finding places to explore and things to do together. It was really great; it provided a sense of togetherness in a way that wasn't possible for us in the real world at the time.

Kat and I in an SL skybox circa 2007.

It was during one of those "dates" in fall 2006 that we looked at the events list and saw someone was doing a live music show. The artist's name, in case you're wondering about the very first SL show I ever saw, was Keiko Takamura. The venue was a small beachside camp spot; I don't recall the name. There weren't many people there, probably ten or fifteen. But I do recall my reaction, which was, "Wait... I can play live in this Second Life place?"

The rest is pretty much what you'd expect. I'd been a longtime performing musician and an audio/Internet technology person for years and years, so in many ways, SL music was made specifically for someone like me. I already had the necessary hardware, and it didn't take long to figure out the streaming software aspect. Before the end of that year, I was trying out my own shows... beginning at my own little parcel for audiences made up of friends, and then expanding into open mic events and little tips-only shows at little venues. Within a couple of years, I was performing very often for pretty good crowds in SL, and at the same time was writing new music so I'd have some more original material to do at those shows.

Kat eventually moved here with me in 2008, but the acceptance of those new songs by my SL crowds led to my decision to record an album that I released in 2009, with Zak Claxton having become more than just the arbitrary avatar name I'd picked, and instead being the stage name I'd continue to use for all of my musical endeavors since then.

Why the History Lesson?
It was in 2008 that I did my first performance at a Second Life birthday event. It was SL5B. Back then, the entire event was run by residents. In fact, at that point, Linden Lab seemingly had very little to do with SL at all, beyond running the servers and making the software. Each year in June, a team of volunteers put on an event that celebrated the anniversary of Second Life's beginnings. The event was smaller but not dissimilar to what it is now; a showcase of what makes Second Life cool and fun. I've been maintaining this silly blog for so long, I did document my SL5B shows that day 11 years ago.

Being a noob at SL5B in 2008. Photo by Kat.

Since then, I performed an an SLxB event a number of times. I did Zak Shows at SL8B and SL9B. Then, at SL12B in 2015, for the first time, Linden Lab got directly involved in their own anniversary event, and I was trepidatious about it... but it ended up going really well. They held an audition process -- which is really the right thing to do for myriad reasons -- and I ended up getting one of the performance slots. Upon their request a couple of years later, I did the SL14B show in 2017 and the SL15B last year.

And that brings us to SL16B, which just kicked off on June 20. The Music Faire (rebranded from its previous name of Music Fest), held yesterday and today, seemed to go extraordinarily well this year. It's like many things in life that repeat; as they happen over and over, they get refined and improve. There's a pretty tight process that they have for running these things, with a green room location for sound check and a system of having stage managers who teleport you around to various locations. They really have it down to a science. And yeah, there are still the same challenges from a technical standpoint... lag happens when there are hundreds of avatars in the same location, and so on. But it's really not a big thing, and I felt the show was really good.

Me, doing what I do, at SL16B Music Faire. Photo by Kat.

The main stage at SL16B Music Faire used a '50s diner vibe, per the theme of the event. Photo by Kat.

Nice crowd. Photo by Kat.

Yup, that'd be an SL audience. Always fun. Photo by Kat.

Why I Play SLxB Events
On a personal basis, it's a great opportunity for me to play music for a bunch of folks who'd never heard of me before that day. I always try and make those SLxB shows pretty representational of what a typical Zak Show is all about, doing my usual combination of indie music, singer-songwriters, and original stuff that people will generally hear at most of my shows. I also use the opportunity to promote the messages and causes that are important to me. That might not be what everyone wants to hear, and that's fine; as entertainers, we have a responsibility to use those moments to reach a wider audience. A friend of mine, a very well-known musician who is outspoken on certain causes, once told me that, "The only reason people wouldn’t do it is based on selfishness and fear."

I made it a point yesterday to mention two topics that are crucial to me, each one associated with songs I'd chosen to play. First was the separation of families and treatment of detainee immigrants at the US southern border ("I Am a Child"), and the second one was equality of LGBTQ people ("She Keeps Me Warm"). I know for a fact that both topics caused me to have some of my audience depart who either didn't agree with or didn't want to hear about such things, and that is 100% fine. As per my famous pal, I am always willing to forego some tips or subsequent bookings for my own selfish purposes as opposed to keeping quiet when I have a literal stage to raise awareness of these important topics. As Elie Wiesel said, "We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."

The opportunity to get to know some new folks and have them hear my music and my message is always a positive moment for me, and hopefully for them as well. Photo by Kat.

SL16B Music Faire set list...
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
I Am a Child (Neil Young)
She Keeps Me Warm (Mary Lambert)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
Crosses (José González)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Hunger Strike (Temple of the Dog)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
If You Could Only See (Tonic)
*SL16B Improv (Zak Claxton)

We had well over 100 people at this amazing special show, and I want to thank every one of you... with extra special thanks to the following who helped support the show!
LXIX Tomorrow, Alora Ascot, VioletSunflower037 Resident, Nina Brandenburg, swedishfox Ghost, Maeve Branner, Adara Tae, Alexis Fairlady, GaGaQueen Resident, Triana Caldera, Asimia Heron, badgerofzen Resident, go2smoky Resident,IndyanaJjones Resident, Cordelia Cerise, Diana Renoir, siouxsieincognita Resident, Bee Blackrain, Kat Claxton, Mika Rainfall, JoelleAshes Resident, Swan Elan, kromlex Resident, Michael Takakura, backstage coordinator SilvinaWild, stage manager CB Axel, and Linden Lab's Lead Community Manager who helps the whole thing happen, Xiola Linden!

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Serenity Gardens (06.17.19)

Me doing what I do at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

Here's something I've noticed. When people make the otherwise noble effort of stepping up to defend the rights of others, there's an interesting and specific phenomenon in regard to the LGBTQ community versus other marginalized groups who experience discrimination. Here's what I mean... you often see phrases like, "I'm not gay, but I am in favor of same sex marriage," or perhaps, "I'm straight, but I am an ally to LGBT people and will support them."

Seems like a nice thing to do, and it is. But... why the need to clarify up front? I mean, no one says, "I'm not black but I support equal rights for African-Americans." Why? Because in most cases, people can look at you and see you're not black. You also tend to never read, "I'm not a woman," or "I'm not an endangered species of butterfly," but regardless of their great intentions, people really do feel the need to be absolutely clear about their own sexual orientation before offering their support for gay/lesbian/trans people. I suppose the reasons are obvious. Despite their willingness to state their support, it's at least equally important to most folks to not be mistaken for someone of a different orientation than their own. There's no external indicator that someone is gay... no skin color, no particular set of facial features, no flashing neon sign. Furthermore, going back a long, long time, being mistaken for being gay could lead to dire consequences, and in some cultures still can. Homosexuality has been condemned and discriminated against for so long that the very idea of someone thinking you are gay is frightening to many, and I suppose you can't blame them.

But I don't do that, and I'll tell you why: I don't care if anyone mistakes my sexual orientation. If someone wants to assume I'm gay, or straight, or otherwise, that's their prerogative. And if someone asks, I'm happy to tell them. But I don't feel a need to make a big announcement about it every time I want to offer my support. If you don't need me to say that I'm not a fish when I state my opposition to polluting the oceans, you should feel the same about how I support equality of sexual orientation.

All that being said, I'm sure that the important aspect is the support itself, and if you do feel that need to clarify your own orientation, that probably doesn't bother anyone at all. As I said, I just found it interesting from a standpoint of human behavior. And why am I even talking about this? Because it's June and in the spirit of Pride Month, I decided to perform some music at each of my shows this month that honored the courage of the openly LGBT community, and I did so last night at Serenity Gardens.

Rocking the Grid
I should once again mention that for these past few shows at Serenity Gardens, having Grace McDunnough playing before me is a huge pleasure. I adore her as a person and her music is fantastic. My show went well, and really, they all do at that venue. I pulled out two songs that were previously unplayed by me... the Gordon Lightfoot classic "Sundown" -- a song with a darker theme than I'd previously realized before playing it -- and a light pop song by Mary Lambert called "She Keeps Me Warm". That was the song I did to acknowledge Pride, since Mary is an LGBT artist who first composed the song as the hook for the massively popular Grammy-nominated hit "Same Love", and then re-did it as a full solo song. It's lovely, and I enjoyed the opportunity to perform it.

A lovely summer evening for whipping up that live music. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens is such a nice, laid-back vibe. I always enjoy it. Photo by Kat.

One other note. I don't think it's a big deal, but last night after I finished the show, I had a hand that was in pretty serious pain. It came without warning, this pain that was focused around the knuckles of my index finger of my left (fretting) hand, and the knuckle was kind of inflamed and red and not happy at all. Musicians are understandably paranoid about problems with their hands, and I iced it last night and it seems quite a bit better today. I'm hoping it's nothing serious or anything that will continue to affect my playing in the future. Think good thoughts for me, please.

It's mostly better today, but like most serious musicians, I get a little freaked out about my hands.

Serenity Gardens set list...
One of These Things First (Nick Drake)
*Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
The Arrangement (Joni Mitchell)
*She Keeps Me Warm (Mary Lambert)
Everyday I Write the Book (Elvis Costello)
Rocky Mountain High (John Denver)
Norwegian Wood (Beatles)
Don't Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
Perfectly Calm (They Stole My Crayon)
Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to the show, with special thanks to the following who helped support it!
AaronCabottJones Resident, Diana Renoir, Lauralynn Foxtrot, Trouble Streeter, Tyche Szondi, Kat Claxton, jhd2909 Resident, Barbara Mixemup, Celeste Ewing, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Serenity Gardens (06.03.19)

Happy birthday (almost) to me. Rocking Serenity Gardens on a Monday night. Photo by Kat.

As my audience at Serenity Gardens last night heard way more times than they ever wanted, this week, I am turning 50 years old. I've known many people who turned 50... friends, coworkers, relatives. Most of them, at the time, claimed to feel better than they assumed they would at this age, and now that I'm here, I agree. It's a phrase I've heard my whole life... "50 is the new 40", and it sounds like a load of shit, honestly. I think I'm doing pretty well at 50, at least in the important aspects of being relatively healthy and having maintained a good set of priorities, and having had what I consider to be a fortunate life thus far.

Here's a funny thing: it's always said that a person tends to be liberal in their youth and grow more conservative as they age. In my case, I was somewhere between centrist and apathetic for much of my youth and early adulthood, and have grown exponentially more progressively liberal and politically active starting in the early 2000s and ramping up in recent years. Apart from generally doing things ass backwards, perhaps that's been a driving force in retaining my youthful vibe, assuming I have one.

In any case, it's super hard to be objective about one's self and the generation surrounding you. Instead of just going on instinct -- which will also tend to favor one's ego -- I try and use a little actual evidence that a good number of people who are the same age as me in 2019, those born in 1969, seem to be a little less old than 50-year-olds of years past. I mean, come on.

Dave Grohl. Jennifer Aniston. Paul Rudd. Matthew McConaughey. Jack Black. Gwen Stefani. Jay-Z. Donnie Walburg. Cate Blanchett. Ice Cube. Gerard Butler. Christian Slater. All born the same year as me. That's not bad company to be in. Even looking at non-celebrities, like my high school classmates and so on... most of the 50-year-olds I know, both men and women, seem to look pretty good for their age. Most of them don't look like the 50-year-olds I knew growing up. They seem healthier and less aged overall. Why? Well... I could speculate that compared to previous generations, mine has prioritized healthy activities and habits. We're probably more likely to exercise and eat better, and less likely to smoke and drink and so on.

Me on the verge of my 50th birthday. I don't think I look old. I don't feel old. I'm not even worried about being old. I sometimes worry about not getting old, but that's a topic for a whole other blog post. Photo by Jess Smith in Joshua Tree, May 2019.

And, of course, there's the superficial side. It could be said that people these days are a little better at hiding their age than past generations were. Here's something you may or may not know about me: I don't give a flying fuck about looking old. Some of the coolest, hippest, most influential people I know of are way older than me. I don't dye my hair, I don't use any special skin stuff or hair product. I don't do almost anything beyond basic hygiene things. So, if I look a certain way that seems younger than my years, it's just good genes and pure luck, I suppose. I do work out daily, which may help a bit, but I do that just to feel good. Any benefit of youthful attractiveness is purely a side effect.

Old Man Sings at People
It really did turn out to be a great final live music show of my 40s at Serenity Gardens. We had a super crowd, with a whole bunch of my Zakster friends/fans in attendance. For the second show in a row at Serenity, I had the incredible Grace McDunnough playing before me, and she is absolutely one of my personal favorite SL performers of all time. Grace and I go way back, and I enjoy her every bit as much as a human being as I do a fellow musician.

Serenity Gardens makes me comfortable as a performer, which means I'm less inhibited and more likely to do a fun show. Photo by Kat.

Side view of me rocking. Photo by Kat.

The amazing Grace McDunnough! Awesome like a possum. Everyone loves her, or at least everyone should. Photo by Kat.

I had briefly considered doing an entire set of songs from 1969, but... nah. Don't get me wrong; there are a ton of great songs from that year! But really, I don't like limiting myself in that way, and besides... if it was going to be my birthday show, I wanted to play more of a variety of stuff that I personally enjoyed. So I did.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Gardenia (Iggy Pop)
Pecan Pie (Golden Smog)
Peace Love & Understanding (Elvis Costello)
Old Man (Neil Young)
Badge (Cream)
Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell)
Daniel (Elton John)
Radio Free Europe (R.E.M.)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)

Big thanks to every single person who came out to my unofficial birthday show, with special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
Kat Chauveau, Nina Brandenburg, dls Falconer, Diana Renoir, bblbabe Resident, Trouble Streeter, love2play2 Resident, Andydennis Enchanted, TheaDee Resident, Asimia Heron, Kat Claxton, go2smoky Resident, Tyche Szondi, and the fabulous team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.